Posts Tagged ‘dungeons’

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Unusual Dungeons (and other such locations)” chosen by Nils Jeppe over at Enderra. Is that an awesome theme or what?

In my homebrew setting of Exploration Age ruined settlements and structures from an age when aberrations ruled Canus dot the world map. These aberrant ruins come in many forms. My favorite is a prison designed specifically for holding dragons!

The only dragon no prison can contain.


History of Dragon Prisons

The aberrations warred for thousands of years with the dragons for control of Canus. During that time the aberrations used powerful magic to create special prisons designed to hold dragons. These prisons needed to be powerful indeed to contain such mighty creatures.

The aberrations eventually lost the war with the dragons, abandoning their surface structures and retreating into The Underdark. Many of their prisons remain standing thousands of years later with magic and horrors untold.

Entrance Citadels

No dragon prisons actually exist on the Material Plane. Each prison is held in its own special demiplane created by the aberrations. The hidden entrances to these worlds are found within labyrinthine ruins of aberrant citadels. Like most aberrant structures these ruins go deep into the ground rather than rise into the sky to afford better protection from flying dragon enemies.

The aberrations left these strongholds behind causing them to be overrun with all manner of creatures seeking a free home. Orcs, goblins, gnolls, lizardfolk, kobolds, and more make the place home usually without ever knowing its previous purpose. Even if the portals are found in these ruins, opening one requires obtaining its key, a small gem with a strange aberrant symbol engraved.

Aside from the denizens who call the ruin home, there may be some active traps from the time of the aberrations. These traps are typically magical, mind-altering obstacles which the resident monsters have learned to avoid.

Prison Demiplanes

Once through the portal and into the pocket dimension, adventurers find themselves in a small plane of fixed size. The portal lands them on strip of barren earth sandwiched between the edge of the plane and a moat of liquid psychic energy. This strip of land and moat run along the plane’s borders creating an island at the center of the plane. Upon this island sits the prison itself, and imposing structure of black hewn stone, shaped and carved by the strange magic of aberrations.

Inside the demiplane living creatures require no food or water to survive and do not age. A powerful ritual to create this effect was enacted by the aberrations for two reasons. First performing the rituals, expensive and time-consuming as they are, was less expense and life-threatening than trying to feed, house, and clean up after growing dragons. Also as dragons age they grow in power so it was to the aberrations’ benefit to halt the aging process of these beings.

The few aberration guards who patrolled the prison fled years ago when their kind were driven underground. Of course these demiplanes never housed many aberrations to begin with. Even behind bars dragon prisoners are dangerous so the aberrations built construct guardians. These guardians are still operational, patrolling the demiplane’s border and moat as well as the inside of the prison. All of these constructs are linked together by magic so when one senses trouble, all other constructs are alerted to prepare for battle.

Ground Floor

If the moat, walls, and guardians outside of the prison can be overcome, adventurers find themselves on the ground floor of the prison itself. No dragons dwell on the ground floor. Rather, more construct guardians roam an open air fort complete with towers, a guardhouse, and an enormous hole in the center of the ground.

The adamantine guardhouse is where the aberrations who ran the complex lived. These now abandoned buildings have a training room, private quarters, and a war room for meetings and communication with the world outside the demiplane. The war room often features a crystal ball which allows observation of all areas of the cell block floor and direct communication with the entrance citadel and other aberrant ruins. The strange and varied body shapes and habits of aberrations are accounted for in these structures. There is often a hidden, locked, trapped chest within these guard houses which contains scrolls of levitate.

The constructs are trained to use the powerful psychic cannons mounted on towers around the complex. These cannons stun invading creatures while the rest of the guardians clobber them to death. The constructs immediately attack any creature they do not recognize.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the prison’s ground floor is the large hole in its center. The top of the opening is covered with a magic, translucent barrier which allows only non-dragon creatures to pass through. The next level of the prison, the cell block floor, is 100 feet below and the only way to reach it is through the opening. Aberrations and constructs who could not fly used the scrolls of levitate when they needed to head down to the cell block floor. The controls for turning this barrier on and off are within the guardhouse.

Cell Block Floor

The central area of the cell block is directly underneath the opening on the ground floor. Several long halls branch off from the central area in several directions for 500 feet in different directions like spokes in a wheel. Should the dragon escape its cell, it still has a far way to travel down a cramped hall before it can use its breath weapon. These halls have adamantine gates every 100 feet which were meant to be slammed down and locked in case of a dragon escape. The central room also features a psychic net which can be activated from the guardhouse in the ground level to subdue any escaping dragons.

The prison’s most powerful construct guardians roam the halls of the cell block level, ready to destroy any intruders who might free the dragons. Traps which affect the mind and cripple intruders with necrotic, psychic, and radiant damage are found on the bars of every cell and along every hall.

The bars of each cell neutralize any spell or attack which deals acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder damage as well as any breath weapon which passes through them. Standing in front of the bars allows a person to see everywhere within the cell. Aberrations would stand at the bars and torture dragon prisoners using their psychic abilities. The dragons had no place to hide. Sometimes the dragons would die during these interrogations and their massive bodies would often be left in the cell until the prison ran out of space and the cell was needed for a new captive.

While the prisons were made to hold dragons, others might be contained within the cells. On Verda, tieflings might be held within some of the cells if they were captured alongside their dragon allies and the same might be the case for shardminds on Findalay or Parian. Even traitorous aberrations or morchia could be contained within the cells. The cells have also been used to hold objects of great value since the prisons are so well guarded.

Now that thousands of years have passed, each cell block floor could be different from prison to prison. The magic in a cell’s bars might have weakened or malfunctioned allowing a dragon to escape. The freed dragon still cannot leave the prison because of the magical barrier above, but might have liberated its dragon allies, or kept them locked up to torture for entertainment, or have reprogrammed the constructs to follow all of its orders. The life-sustaining magic of the demiplane could become corrupt and raise the fallen corpse of a dragon turning it into a dracolich. What have dragons done to their cells in the thousands of years of solitude? Were they driven mad? Did they have some way to cast spells or practice magic? How might they react to people? These decisions are all up to the DM.

Keep It Rollin’

I actually like this dragon prison thing so much, I’m going to build one for you level by level. Maybe at the end of it all I’ll give you guys the whole dungeon in a PDF. Next time!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I sit down with Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, and Vegas Lancaster to discuss the latest Dungeon Master’s Guide previews and the release of the Bahamut and Tiamat miniatures from Wiz Kids. This podcast was recorded on November 23, 2014.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcast Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Let’s talk dungeons! It’s the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. Many thanks to James Eck over at Mind Weaver RPG for hosting and coming up with this awesome idea.

Everyone loves a good dungeon! I’ve given my opinion in the past on building adventure sites. Canus is chock full of them! Aberrant ruins, unexplored jungle temples, Underdark labyrinths, and more!

I Like ‘Em Small and Chunky

AD&D Forgotten Realms FTW BBQ!

Since I’m designing a campaign setting, I want to share with you some interesting dungeon locations I’ve written for the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. I’m taking a page out of Ed Greenwood’s playbook. In a recent Tome Show podcast of a Gen Con Forgotten Realms panel, Greenwood and R.A. Salvatore discussed the beauty of the original grey box, which was the first product to bring the world a fully realized Realms. Greenwood went on to say he did not flesh out every single dungeon and adventure site in the Realms with a map. That would have been too expensive to print, more work than one person could do in a timely manner, and too prescriptive to DMs (and authors like Salvatore) who wanted a toy box, but not directions on how to set up the toys. For those reasons I’m doing the same thing in Exploration Age.

Also, it’s good for me to give out information in small chunks so that I create a campaign guide both DMs and players can read. This is good for two reasons. First, many DMs are also players in other games, so I don’t want them to read through the book for their game and then feel like they can’t run a PC in another because of what they know. Second, I want players to be able to read the Exploration Age Campaign Guide freely so they can also get to know the world. If all the dungeon details were in the book, PCs would be going into a monster lair knowing every secret door, combat encounter, and trap. As a bonus, it’s good business to put out a book both players and DMs can buy.

That thinking from the original grey box has carried over into modern products. If you look at the fourth edition campaign guides for Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Dark Sun, you’ll see that thinking of giving out a small paragraph or two of info for each adventure site is far more common place than fleshing out the entire thing with maps and creatures.

What IS a Dungeon?

Now THAT’S a dungeon.

Let’s face it, when someone says the word dungeon to a D&D player, most of us think of an underground tunnel complex, ancient ruin, or dark castle. Though really a dungeon can be any place with encounters, decision points, and rewards. More simply a dungeon is any place an adventure takes place. It doesn’t have to be old, dark, smelly, and out of the sun’s light.

In fact, you can lay out a wilderness adventure or a murder mystery during a jackrabbit ride the same way you might a dungeon. Plan out some encounters ahead of time, detail some key areas, and you’re off to the races. You can even throw some good decision points in there, like do the players summit Mt. Inferno, do they pass it to the East where the Skullbreaker orcs live, or pass it to the West where Salvanaxiavarion the red dragon makes her home.

Really any adventure site is a dungeon.

Exploration Age Dungeons

This will be helpful!

This will be helpful!

And so, without further adieu, some adventure sites from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

  • Mageforge Bragonay’s first attempt at magical terraforming went horribly wrong. At first the research facility of Mageforge’s gardens were lush and successful, but the crops continued to grow. Rapidly a living jungle overtook the research facility and the land around it. The plants came into a mind of their own and tore apart the facility, scattering its contents everywhere and killing the inhabitants. The place is now a living jungle, still full of interesting research and items the dwarves were creating, but every living thing in Mageforge is teeming with hate for humanoids, especially those who seek to rob their treasures.
  • Deep Orc Mountains No landform has a more appropriate name in all of Findalay than the Deep Orc Mountains. The orcs used to live throughout The Spine of Bragonay and The Wastes, but the united orc tribes raided one too many dwarf caravans and former Empress Falahdrah ordered The Black Blood Purge. The dwarves drove the orcs into their own section of the mountains while also seeding agents within the orc ranks to sow discord. In thousands of miles of twisting tunnels the orcs now war against themselves. This was a genius move on the part of the dwarves, for monstrosities coming out of The Damned Lands are now the problem of the orcs and not theirs. Within the Deep Orc Mountains there is a miracle device. The altar of true resurrection is one of the most sought after artifacts in all of Canus. This hidden altar casts true resurrection without material components on any deceased body (or piece of a body) placed upon it. Once the altar is used it melts into the stone and reforms somewhere else within Deep Orc Mountains, making it nearly impossible to find. More folks have lost their lives seeking the altar than have actually used it.
  • Deadwood Castle The forest around Deadwood Castle is full of gray rotting trees covered in mist. The animals do not go anywhere near the place and as such it is eerily quiet. The castle has been there since before the elves arrived in Taliana. Those who are brave enough to enter the wood and face the undead animals that sit silently in wait for prey have found Deadwood Castle is under the care of an undead aberrant of colossal proportions. No one is sure what the lord of Deadwood Castle may want, but he always allows any party who foolishly wanders into his land to escape peacefully, provided they leave one member behind for his “studies.” He makes the trespassers decide which friend to leave behind and seems to take glee in watching the painful choice be made. The rest live, returning home and tell the tale.
  • Ruins of Grayonus Grayonus was once a keep run by a lovestruck halfling army captain named Bellink Barrinon. Bellink had fallen for a beautiful halfling maiden he saw out his window every night. He would call to her and she would disappear into the forest. Legend says one night he followed her into the forest where she waited for him. Bellink took this mysterious woman who did not speak as his wife and moved her into Grayonus with him. The woman gave birth at midnight during a red moon and she birthed 100 fully mature slaadi. The slaadi murdered everyone in the keep except for their mother and have lived there ever since protecting the voiceless, nameless woman and causing havoc for any passersby.
  • Kyot The Denang Dynasty does everything within its power to crush rebellion and separatist talk within Parian’s borders. Of course it lost Tsuia, and more recently the people of Kyot decided to rebel. They built their walls high, covered them in protective wards, topped them with cannons, and dared Parian’s massive military to try to take them on. The emperor at the time, Walijisho Denang, promised to use his divinity to smite the rebels personally as an example to other Parians. He summoned an army of demons within the walls of the city who massacred the population. To this day the demons remain, enclosed by the walls and wards. It has been over 150 years since anyone has cared for the walls of Kyot though…
  • Last Hope Forest The tribes call this forest Last Hope because it is right on the edge of the Nightmare Wood. All of the undead creatures and oozes which call the Nightmare Wood home do not cross the living tree line. However, Last Hope Forest is not without its dangers. The wood is home to a colony of doppelgangers who have developed a taste for the flesh of humanoids. They find preparing the meat of humanoids is an art, and take a sick pleasure in assuming the appearance of the person they are eating. Unfortunately for the Bragonians, they recently developed a taste for dwarf.
  • Murder Lake Murder lake is fed by Pain River and Death River and then its water flows out to the sea via the Thirst River. All these bodies of water are aptly named, for any who drink from the waters must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or lose 1d4 points from their Constitution score. These points may be regained at a rate of 1 per day provided the afflicted doesn’t drink from the waters again and take more Constitution damage. A lesser restoration or similar spell can also restore these points. The Roc Tribe seems immune to these effects and lives by the affected bodies of water. They claim the source of this weakening is an undead kraken at the bottom of the 500-foot depth of Murder Lake. The kraken has cursed the water, but the Roc Tribe offers the beast a humanoid sacrifice every year in exchange for not feeling the effects of the curse.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Well, fifth edition has been released! The D&D Starter Set hit local friendly game stores last week and the D&D Basic rules are up… for FREE! Go download and check out over 100 pages of new D&D content for $0. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting many a podcast about my thoughts on the new edition, but spoiler alert… I feel very positive about it. Maybe you’re not feeling these new rules or maybe you agree with me that this could be our finest D&D yet. Let me know if you think I’m right/wrong and sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter. I love to hear others thoughts and opinions. Remember, in the coming days of discussion and possible disagreement – just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean he or she is a Nazi. Be polite and respectful and people will respect your own view-point more. In the end this is just a game.


Anyway, with this release I know the DMs out there are beginning to craft worlds of their own. I thought I’d talk with you all a bit about how I built some adventure sites into Exploration Age and then give you some examples (which you can feel free to pillage for your home campaign).

Write Down What You Got

Before you begin adding adventure sites to your world, make a quick list of all the ideas for cool dungeons, forests, castles, and more that you have. You don’t need more than a line for each site and the description only needs to make sense to you. For instance, maybe you’ve got an idea for red dragon’s volcanic lair which also serves as a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire. You could simply write – red dragon, volcano, portal and know what that meant. The important thing is to get any ideas you have down on (virtual) paper so you don’t forget them.

As you know I love Google Drive, so I recommend starting a document there, so you can add ideas as you get them. You never know when you’ll feel inspired! If you don’t have any ideas, have a good old-fashioned brainstorm session, or have no fear and continue on. Tips for idea generation are below!

Map It Up

My latest map of Canus... still needs some tweaks

My latest map of Canus… still needs some tweaks

I’ve already written about how I made the maps for Exploration Age. Once you’ve got all of your continents and oceans created, it’s time to start dropping in adventure sites. I had my idea list, but it wasn’t enough to fill the giant world I had created. I began adding ruins, castles, and more to the map. I didn’t do this totally randomly, I looked for places that might make sense. A dangerous ruin might be in a swamp, away from a lot of other areas of civilization, and a fortress might sit with its back to the mountains or on a border between two countries in a defensible or valuable position.

Once I had placed these sites I went around naming them. I tried to look at the names of some of D&D most classic adventure sites. The Tomb of Horrors, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Castle Ravenloft all have names which evoke a particular feeling of grand adventure while also giving you little hints about what to expect from the site. So for the sites that weren’t part of my original list, I came up with their names first and concepts second. Sometimes their names were based on the location in which they were found. For instance, within a patch of dead forest in Taliana I placed the Deadwood Castle. Other times these names were something evocative that popped into my head that I knew I would sort out later – like Gnome Graves in Parian’s Niro Swamp.

Make Your Lists

Once I had all my adventure sites and my map finished, I wrote down every single site I had placed on the map. In my case, since the map is so large, I divided my list into sublists by country. However, your map may be smaller than my own, so you may just make one list or perhaps your map is way bigger than mine and you want to find some other method of dividing your list (maybe by terrain or region – really whatever is easiest for you). Any notes or ideas I had about what the sites might be, I included on the list.

Once I had that master list of adventure sites, I set it aside. It’s always good to shift gears and let the mind rest for a bit. Many of your best ideas come when you brain is just wandering so let it (but keep that list handy so when an idea comes up you can add that detail or note to the list so you don’t forget).

A lot of folks get their best ideas in the shower. So get cleaning yourself!

Adding the Details

Finally, I began detailing each site. Obviously, with so many adventure sites on the world map, I wasn’t going to create a unique dungeon map and stat out every single resident monster for each. Besides, I want to keep things a little more open so I can tie an adventure site into the larger campaign’s story arc as it unfolds. However, should my players decide to travel through a site, spend the night in one, or just go delving into some dungeon on a side mission, I wanted to be prepared. I decided I would write at least a quick paragraph for each adventure site to have the basics covered. This will also help me if I’m running a more sandbox style adventure where the players feel free to roam all over the map.

In my mind, good adventure sites need three details.

  1. History How did a ruin become ruined? What was it before? Who built the structure? What are the stories locals tell about the place? If it’s a natural land formation why is it special and different from other places created by nature? What is unknown about its history? Who is alive today and still tied to the history of the place? Do they want people delving into the site or not? Giving a site history roots it solidly in the game world. It gives adventurers a chance to hear about a place through word of mouth instead of just stumbling onto it and it can inspire the dangers and draws of the place.
  2. Danger It wouldn’t be much of an adventure site if it weren’t dangerous. If you’re playing D&D 99% of the time that danger is one or more monsters, so think about the kind of baddies that populate a place. Is this one creature’s lair or home to a host of baddies? Of course, danger need not always come in the form of killer claws and jaws. Maybe the danger is some ancient curse, magical phenomena, natural hazard, supernatural disease, or mechanical trap. Your players may be more curious and probably more terrified if they wander into an adventure site and find no one at all… because an ancient curse drives any intruders so mad that they throw themselves into the tar pit in the basement.
  3. Draw What makes delving into the adventure site worth while? Are there riches to be uncovered? A dragon’s treasure hoard? A vein of mithral? Is there someone to be rescued or liberated in the site? Is the defeat of the evil inside the draw, because that evil is threatening a local village or something greater? Is there information that can only be learned within the site? Is traversing the adventure site the only way to get from one area to the next? Whatever the draw, every adventure site needs one, otherwise why bother risking life and limb to explore the place?


Here are some examples of adventure sites from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

  • Sunken Hold of Hymore (Aeranore) Even the trolls of the Cold Marsh won’t go near the Sunken Hold of Hymore. The old estate which once belonged to a noble family known for their gold jewelry collection is now buried three-fourths of the way into the marsh. It is said that Hymore, a well-known angry drunk, struck the life out of his wife one night. His young daughter, who had shown great psionic ability, buried the house into the ground, suffocating her family and the servants. Some travelers and treasure-seekers who explored parts of the hold say they’ve found undead with strange psionic abilities and heard the voice of an eerie little girl singing a lullaby throughout the house.
  • The Wastes (Bragonay) Bragonay is mostly desert, rocky in the North, sandy in the South. The Wastes are vast expanses of dangerous sandstorms, killer predators, warforged bandits, and countless other dangers. However, merchants constantly cross these wastes when they cannot transport their goods on the Jackrabbit due to cost, limited space, or their destination not being one of the stops on the line. Adventurers may be hired to protect a merchant caravan crossing The Wastes as guards or simply be getting from point A to point B themselves. They better bring plenty of food and water… and a good weapon. There are other reasons to go delving into The Wastes.
    • There are magical twin cacti right outside Mt. Thraxallis. The needles of these cacti can be collected and be used as magic arrows. Stripping both cacti yields 10d10 +2 arrows, however adventurers who do so risk angering the volcano’s resident, an ancient red dragon named Thraxallis who believes the cacti are his alone.
    • It is said that a camp of djinn nomads wander the desert waiting for travelers to happen upon them. If a traveler can best their champion in combat, he or she is granted a wish per the spell.
    • Sand krakens attack from below, but have beaks of solid diamond that can be harvested once they are killed.
  • Troll Lake (Verda) The scrags and trolls who live on the banks of Troll Lake are not to be trifled with. There is an odd magical effect within the waters of the lake and the surrounding lands – elemental magics cease to function. Melf’s acid arrow quiver is empty, lightning bolts do not crackle, and flame tongues cannot produce their fire. This has made it the perfect sanctuary for the denizens of Troll Lake, as only natural fire and acid can be used against them in that area. It is best to avoid the huge lake all together, as the trolls have begun to multiply. The monsters now have an army and the areas around Troll Lake have grown crowded. It is only a matter of time before they march.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!